Organizational change continues to grow in volume and pace, and shows no signs of slowing down. Participants in the most recent Prosci Best Practices in Change Management study anticipated an 86% increase in change by 2020—an increase of 14% from the previous study. With so much change underway and more on the horizon, some organizations are reaching a saturation point and feeling its negative effects. Here’s what change leaders and organizations can do about it.
Change saturation occurs when the number of changes you’re implementing exceeds the capacity of individuals in your organization to effectively adopt and use those changes. Increasingly common, change saturation affected more than 73% of respondents in Prosci's most recent Best Practices in Change Management report, who claimed their organizations were near, at or beyond this saturation point.
Change saturation can risk project successes and lead to frustrated employees who often feel the effects in the form of change fatigue, which ranges from a general lack of resilience to job dissatisfaction. Senior leaders who sponsor many change initiatives in their organizations often assume they can’t influence change saturation because they don’t control the pace of change in our global, always-changing business world. They often say that employees must simply learn to cope with the increasing amount of change. But senior leaders can and should mitigate the negative effects of change saturation.
Here are six recommendations for reducing change saturation before, during and after project implementation:
Use this inventory to distinguish non-discretionary from discretionary change initiatives. Non-discretionary changes are typically a response to changes in your external operating environment, such as a direct competitive threat or mandated requirement from a regulatory agency.
Discretionary changes usually emerge from internal initiatives such as developing new products and services, introducing new technology, or initiating continuous improvement approaches.
It’s important to assess how much every proposed change contributes to achieving your business strategy and use the results to eliminate non-aligned or “pet” projects. Next, postponing or culling those discretionary projects you can’t effectively support will help you create a focused, prioritized project portfolio from the remaining initiatives.
Managing change saturation also requires confirming that every member of your senior leadership team is fully committed to successful implementation of the initiatives in your change portfolio. And being realistic about your organization’s current capacity for change is critical. Always retain some capacity for unplanned, non-discretionary initiatives.
This structured approach should include a people risk assessment to determine the amount of change management resources you need and the effort it will take to achieve your desired outcomes. Be sure to provide dedicated change management resources and funding. Don’t expect people to do change management “off the side of their desks.”
Active and visible executive sponsorship continues to be the most important contributor to success of change management initiatives. Prosci research has revealed this truth consistently since 1998.
Source: Prosci Best Practices in Change Management
Success builds confidence and can help increase organizational change capacity. Be a role model for the ABC’s of sponsorship and expect your direct reports to do the same:
Instead of defining the finish line on the project implementation date, set it for the date you expect to be able to sustain achievement of the desired benefits. The integrated project and change management plan for each initiative should include a sustainment phase as well. This ensures that project benefits continue once achieved and provides an effective hand-off from the project team to the operating side of the organization.
Structuring executive team performance contracts to reward benefit realization and sustainment is also more effective than rewarding executives for initiating changes.
Meeting regularly with individuals impacted by changes helps you stay attuned to their level of change saturation and resulting fatigue, which can affect various roles throughout your organization:
In addition to working directly with employee groups, monitoring customer satisfaction data can indicate the negative effects of current changes. Organizational health indicators, such as engagement scores, absenteeism rates and retention rates also offer insights about employee change fatigue. And, of course, anticipating these potential negative impacts as you plan future changes enables you address issues before they arise.
As project teams focus on the many project initiatives flooding their business units, they risk missing the collective impact of the changes on the organization and your people. Keeping these six strategies in mind can help you create a clear action plan for reducing change saturation effectively and as a focused, aligned change management team.
Andrew is a Prosci Master Instructor with more than three decades of change management experience. A former change management practitioner and internal consultant for two Canadian organizations, he brings Prosci training events to life with his first-hand professional experiences. Andrew's goal is to help new change practitioners turn their knowledge into the ability they need to deliver business results for their organizations. And as a certified coach, he enables senior leaders to better manage the people side of change.
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